I screened my 2014 moving image work, ‘Group Photo’ at The Showroom gallery, London on 18/2/16. The screening was part of ‘Now Showing’ a series of events run by Cinenova Feminist Film and Video Distributor who hold an archive of women’s film and video. The premise of these events is to invite artists to show a work of their own with one selected from the Cinenova collection. My choice was to show Judith Barry’s 1978 work, ‘Kaleidoscope’ with ‘Group Photo’.
I talked with Marina Vishmidt in a post-screening discussion. A key focus of this conversation was a discussion about my recent PhD and current Post-Doctoral research at the University of Leeds on ‘Performing Attachment’.
Part One of ‘Group Photo’ can be watched on Vimeo here https://vimeo.com/139951902.
Judith Barry’s ‘Kaleidoscope’ (50 mins, 1978):
Originally performed over a two-week period at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, these five-minute scenes juggle with domestic situations and probe the dynamics of a couple’s daily interactions – but in this instance the male character is cleverly played by a woman. Popular conventions from TV, cinema and theatre are used to drawn attention to issues raised by middle-class feminism. The format parodies typical soap opera programmes and in so doing highlights how, in its attempt to reflect ordinary life, soap opera grossly distorts reality through over-dramatisation and compacting events. ‘Barry hints and puts across the feeling that women then tended to seek solutions to their problems within the confines of personal relationships, instead of pursuing them in the outside world where they really intended changes to take place.’ (Reading University)
When I selected Barry’s video from the Cinenova archive to show with Group Photo, these were the reasons why:
Primarily, I’m interested in how Barry’s video uses self-conscious devices to address notions of inequality. I really like the use of a female actor in the male role, and how this provides a constant challenge to the inequalities being played out in the video. In Group Photo, I sought to address the limitations of the representation of groups in images in capitalist culture, and to counteract this by on the one hand presenting a ‘sustained image of equality’ where each person is different yet equally able to ‘become’ someone else, effects are equally applied to them, they are diversified by gender, race, cultural background and age.Then on the other hand I sought to apply overbearing effects to the depiction of this group – self-conscious camera work and artificial image colour, effects that seem extreme and far from democratic.
Barry’s work also critiques the way that relationships are depicted in culture, particularly taking aim at the soap opera. In Group Photo I sought to critique the representation of groups in images. The over-dramatisation of the events in Kaleidoscope, the limited framing of what may happen between two people, the stratification and sharp delineation of male and female roles, the connection to film melodrama that I see, all relate to the hyperbolic ways in which I ‘make’ the images in Group Photo romantic, or cold for instance. They also relate to how I suggest two intital stratified ‘modes’ of image-making as a start point of the work: the recording of group achievement, and the use of the group to promote something. Pushed to extremes of coldness and apparent warmth in the video, these codified ‘types’ of image-making invite the actors to perform roles directly associated with these ‘extremes’ (i.e interrogative/romantic), that is to meet the expected aesthetic of the image. Finally the group rejects the limited conventions of the image, interacting in different ways and ignoring the types of representation that the image colour and camera work suggest. There is also significant change in both works – in Kaleidoscope, with the effect of the woman’s experience of education and altered attitudes on their relationship and in Group Photo which, especially viewed as a linear work as it would be in a screening, is very strongly about the change of roles, of the potential of people to become, and of agency.
I am really interested in works which transpose a male role onto a female one, or which use casting to disrupt our engagement with a particular character. For instance, in Luis Bunuel’s That Obscure Object of Desire where two female actors play the same role, also Todd Solondz’s controversial Palindromes where numerous actors play the role of a young girl. In Barry’s film – these self-conscious gestures confront us, challenging us to manage our associations with women, at the same time as deal with our opinion of men, and how both are depicted. I have long been interested in the film version of Intimacy where at the end of the film Mark Rylance perfectly acts out the female stereotype in a relationship: he cries, asking for a serious relationship that the woman doesn’t want. It was really important to me that in Group Photo what happened to men also happened to women, all the effects are applied equally and while stereotyped roles exist, they are often disrupted by other differences, specific choreographies or are subverted in other ways.
The quote in the synopsis for Kaleidoscope in the Cinenova archive list speaks of women seeking solutions to their problems within relationships rather than outside of them. Group Photo effectively enables people like you or I (i.e. people who don’t occupy extremes of aesthetic attractiveness, youth, fashion), to occupy a high quality image, they then reject the modes of representation applied to them and the work concludes by suggesting that it is beyond the image, collectively, that their future resides. So, both works suggest something similar, that solutions must be sought collectively rather than domestically.
I’m interested in the contrast between Group Photo as a highly choreographed silent work, and Kaleidoscope being so carefully scripted. It’s important that when the actors speak in my work they are not heard, while the conversation itself seems productive. I based that improvised dialogue on principles of ‘being seen and heard’, which contrasts with Barry’s characters who, when they speak, are often not heard.
Both works make the artifice of representation employed explicit, using the disruptive effects of this to speak of the nature of representation itself. The humour of both works relates well to this too, where what is absurd or strange or lacking in the staging or work is referred to the act of representation and all the choices that the artist has made – something that interests me a lot.
Considered in the light of ‘Performing Attachment’:
In the context of the ‘Performing Attachment’ project the relationship between ‘Kaleidoscope’ and ‘Group Photo’ highlights the inadequacy of the depiction of human life in visual culture and social media. Where the potential of groups seems deliberately constrained and codified in the images we so often see of them (i.e in advertising or contexts of ‘achievement’) this creates a space for alternative ways of thinking about ‘recording’ collective interaction. For me, the ‘Performing Attachment’ project, by deliberately responding to the apparent gap between what actually happens between attached people that is creative, and what is shown of intimate relationships in images or visual culture, creates a space where an alternative kind of interaction can happen. Here, the creative interactions possible between people in life can be foregrounded, yet, in the workshops and final moving image project, can be explored as improvisations between people who are unattached. This is imagined as a politicised process that counteracts both the depictions of close human relationships in capitalist culture, and may suggest extensions from such ‘creativity’ into the realms of political collaboration and reimagining forms of collectivity.